There is one outstanding memory, of many, on our NCL Star Baltic Capitals cruise. It was the longest day during this cruise which means that the phenomenon of the White Night was available for those who wandered the ship between 2.30 and 3.30am.
Being one of those people, my first White Night experience actually took me by surprise. I had taken up residence on a deck 7 lounger looking out at the horizon. The whole sea skyline, which had been immersed in dusky light started to glow bright red like an autumn sunset. Above it a bank of cloud separated the brilliant red from the smokey light rays as the sun awoke from its very brief sleep. Then a breathtaking flash of gold light stretched across the cloud bank and for several minutes the glory of a setting sun and a summer dawn filled the sky.
Sunrise, Sunset a Baltic midsummer, peacefully floating on a Star.
Embarkation was easy as we went straight into the priority check in for latitudes members. From arriving in a mad taxi drivers cab (see note below) to getting on the ship took about 20 minutes.
Note about cabby who was completely bonkers and scary at times. Especially when DH decided to tell the ranting, steering wheel banging radical that we are ex military! The drive to port from hotel only took 10 minutes, but felt like a lifetime. Nearly was, as he went deadly silent and forgot he was driving a car, at speed, after DHs declaration of our past occupations.
Absolutely lovely and deserve the daily gratuities and any extra tips you can give them.
The ship generally
NCL Star is missing a vital part that the other NCL ships we have been on have. There is no open air bar/eating place on the back of the ship, very disappointing. This area, that would normally lead out from the buffet, is now a helipad above poshed up cabins. This makes navigation at the back of the ship an issue and closes the buffet off from clean, fresh sea air. This was always the best bit for us, eating, drinking, socialising and watching the ships wake. We got lost on the first day trying to find the non-existent aft outside space.
The pool area is small and tired looking, somehow dingy and dark, grotty. However, there are marvellous quiet zones on the front of the ship deck 13 access, with adult only hot tub, comfy seating (get there early or use when everyone else is off on a trip) and sunbeds etc. If you want to see the ships wake, you can head up to the helipad, which has signs up saying 'sundeck' but without any sun loungers.
The food in the buffet was awful, consistently awful. Even the Chocolate buffet was a damp squib compared to Jade, Spirit and the pictures I saw from Gem. We tried very hard to think of anything that we actually liked. We decided that we liked the coleslaw, and then remembered that you could only get it from the pool grill. They ran out of juices all the time or they were sickly sweet or just coloured water. The hot or not water, was hit and miss. The main dining rooms were much better with excellent service and good quality food. Blue lagoon was good and has the same food as on all the ships, so it's reliable. We did not go to any speciality dining venues this time but feedback from those who did, was not all that good and they felt the MDRs were just as good.
We had ordered a bar set up and it was ready for us when we finally got to our cabin, too busy meeting people and starting our cruise in the bier garten. The Gin we ordered came home with us but it was noticeable that on the NCL Spirit we got about 8 cans of soft drinks plus lemons, limes, cherries, drink mats, swizzle sticks and allsorts on a nice tray. This time it was the giant bottle of booze and 4 cans! Someone had also sent us a bottle of wine and chocolate strawberries but there was no name on the card so we don't know who to thank. The strawberries were delicious and we still have the wine.
Our cabin was an inside number 10099. The insides on NCL are very small compared to the large balcony cabins. The bathroom, (although smaller) worked better than the balconies because the toilet was not in a separate cubicle. There was a load of clanging, banging, dragging and hammering noises that came from somewhere at the back of the cabin, that started at 3-4am every night, without fail. We surmised that some kind of works access corridor had to be behind us, or possibly just above. Our steward was lovely and we had a whole zoo of towel animals on some days. As usual for NCL the cabin was spotless!
We promised ourselves that we would 'immerse' ourselves this time. So we did trivia quizzes, joined in table tennis tournaments, played shuffle board, wacked a fair few golf balls and moved around listening to the various musical offerings. The novelty wore off after a couple of days. However, there were some very good entertainers around the ship to fit many tastes. We ran away from the random jazz ensemble because it was painful on the ears.
The Spinnaker lounge was bonkers at times, good live band and interesting music selections. We got grabbed for one game with 2 other couples, never again! We also joined in a whole room game that nearly turned into a giant fight on the white hot party night. The competition was between the two halves of the room. The Corn Huskers a very determined and aggressive bunch leading that gang and the Blond and Beautifuls, bit limp and lacking in numbers, but with one very 'out there' lady. This lady decided she had enough of obvious favouritism being displayed to the corn huskers by the compare (corn huskers had just had him trapped between two of them). Our leader shot across the dance floor from her seat and told them to P...s off into the microphone. EEEK! It all fell apart after that.
We finally went to a show! We met one of the dancers early on and she insisted we went to at least one show, she advised 'Elements' on the last night, told us exactly where we should sit. Very glad she did (and she looked lovely in her duck style, flappy feet floating above us on a trapeze) it's excellent, don't miss it!
Bars and drinks
We spent most of our time in the Bier Garten deck 14 and ended every night dancing away in the Spinnaker lounge. Intervals of coffee at the bar in the casino another favourite place to people watch.
We did not buy the drinks package because we figured if we drank enough to justify getting it, our livers would be divorcing us after 9 days. Also we love our coffee and that was not included in the package. We did not manage to spend the package price, including about 6 speciality coffees per day each. The drinks package costs, with gratuities, $56pppd (total $112 per day). A standard whisky and Pepsi light (with grats) is $6.61, a Mojito about $8. So as an average you need to drink at least 8 alcoholic drinks a day to break even on the package. We spent an average of $25 per day on coffee and about $60 per day on other drinks between us (including soft drinks total $85 per day). Not bad when you consider we spent an awful lot of time in the Bier Garten and nearly every night in the spinnaker lounge until the early hours. We would often then visit Joyce in the casino bar for a late night/early morning latte.
Looking for another kind of late night drink? Watch out for the hot chocolate sachets in the buffet drinks area, collect a couple early on in the day or when you see them they go fast and are the only thing worth drinking in the buffet! If you are in a balcony or suite you get a coffee filter machine, great for your own tea bags and that hot chocolate on your balcony at night, in the morning, anytime really.
Copenhagen - Nice enough, lots of construction work and renovation going on as they expand the Metro. Embarkation port, stayed at the Best Western City the night before. Great location and a very nice hotel all round ( they still have smoking rooms).
Warnemunde/Rostock/Berlin - We were immersing ourselves in ship activities so did not go ashore.
Tallinn - Did our own thing. Walked into the town, about 10 minutes and strolled around, drank coffee and just did touristy things. Lovely place and the main square was very much straight out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, no childcatcher!
St Petersburg - We had two days here, it's a magnificent city and because of visa requirements chose NCL excursions. We found immigration easy but it took a little while, but noticed a couple of people did get stopped, never found out why. The first day we had booked a double decker bus tour with two free hours to go shopping, roam around see the Church of the Spilled Blood plus the compulsory shop stop in a tourist supermarket for loo break etc. The bus was very pleasant initially, early morning with the windows open, listening to the information. As the morning moved on it got very hot so we were very glad when the bus stopped and we could get off. We found a nice cafe/restaurant on the main commercial drag and people watched. Everybody spoke English, menus etc. had English translations. Then we sat by the river next to the Church and watched as many couple had their wedding pictures taken. The shops accepted Euro and some accepted Dollars, we took the currency of the country so used that, adds to the feeling of 'being there'. The bus was very, very hot and sticky by now as the seats were hard plastic, so we did not look forward to getting back on board, but we did get to see loads and hear many fascinating facts about all the beautiful buildings and the amazing history that is, Russia.
The second day we chose a Neva River cruise. Now being us, something had to happen! The night before we had promised ourselves that we would have an early night. Well we sort of did, it was about 2am when we got to bed, at 3am the noises started so I gave up and went for a wander around. Finally got back to sleep at about 7am, not a problem as our trip did not leave until 1pm. 12.10pm I woke up, mad panic followed, so no coffee, food, anything! Not a problem, we thought, Champagne and water with nibbles on the boat. We grabbed an apple, a pear and a can of coke from the fridge, and hats, just as well on all counts. Got to the coach in time and headed off in its nice air-conditioned, cool environ watching the outside temp showing 34C and climbing. Drove around St P several times past the same place on the side of the river. We finally stopped and got off, then waited in the boiling sun for about half an hour (thankful for the coke) until we all got back on the coach. We were at the wrong boarding pier! Now at the right place, got helped across and through two other boats to ours by some Russian gentlemen in trousers and nothing else, different world and it was hot! The other coach load was already on board and no water could be found that had not already been claimed, just very flat half glasses of something resembling lambrini. Never saw any nibbles. The folk music and dance was downstairs and it was a sauna down there, so after looking at the crush we went back upstairs to watch and photograph glorious St Petersburg and eat the apple and pear. End of the cruise and back on the coach, our guide says who wants to go shopping, the roar of NOOOOOOO came out of the seats, well we are going anyway she laughed! Well a fair few needed the loo (we did not as we were dehydrated by then) and others needed coffee, so we shopped. The prices were significantly cheaper than they had been at the scheduled tour shop the day before, so we used up the rest of our roubles. Bit of a mad day! The river provided stunning views and a welcome breeze and we got some fabulous photos and met more lovely people, we enjoyed it!
Helsinki - Lovely place, nice coffee and expensive shops. The market had a bit too much dead wildlife for us! We initially got told that there was a hop on hop of bus for 8 euro. Headed out to discover you had to buy the 30 euro tickets for these buses. It was raining and muggy so we did not want to chance another double decker ride. We asked how much the taxi cabs were and got told 30 euro in each direction. A taxi pulled up to let someone out and we asked, it was 11euro so we got in. It was a very pleasant drive with information provided by the driver all the way to the middle of the city for 11.90euro, tip made it 15euro, bargain! He told us where to go and where to get a taxi back, he was a very nice chap
Stockholm - Fabulous city, we plan a short break there someday. Used the hop on hop off boat which did cost using S Krona about '(EURO)8 each but gave you a sightseeing tour on every leg of the cruise around the islands that make up Stockholm. It was lovely and relaxed the boats arrived every 30 minutes. We walked and had coffee and cake, yummy. We saw and photographed and then we went to the Vasa museum, stunningly amazing worth the trip all by itself!
Copenhagen - Disembarkation. We booked a last day NCL canal tour of Copenhagen with airport transfer. Disembarkation was a nightmare, terribly unorganised. For a considerable time, we and hundreds of others were stuck like sardines in a corridor on deck 4 having been herded from the theatre down the stairs. Serious health and safety risk given that the second load of shore ex people who only disembarked the following day, who had filled the theatre as we left it, were now pushing down the stairs from the other side and compacting the whole mass of hot bothered bodies in an airless environment. No staff anywhere to be seen. On previous NCL cruises we had kept our cases and just left when we wanted, usually about 10.00 on the last calls to leave. You have to leave your cabin by about 8.30 at latest. Copenhagen had developed a cold and was threatening rain but our canal boat cruise was made fun when two Danish chaps gatecrashed our tour. They kept us entertained and to the disgust of the others on the tour drank significant amounts of beer, smoked and swore. We had our very own tour guides!
On this cruise we met some marvelous people, fellow passengers and members of staff from all over the world. To mention a few with thanks for your excellent company. Anna and Don who flung themselves (or Don did) into a massive shore excursion agenda with all entertainment and speciality restaurants to boot! I don't know how they survived the cruise without suffering from exhaustion. Magnificent Marcia and Steve who we always seemed to end up drinking far too much with and laughing ourselves silly. Melissa and Ben (not sure it was Ben but saw them so often felt bad asking) Ben was very amusing and Melissa very nice. Then there was the two wonderfully mad South African ladies who could make anything happen, and often did! You made me feel important. Arsenio Cordoza in the Bier Garten, and elsewhere it was a joy to know you and you looked after us perfectly even though we have stange ideas about amounts of ice. Diana in entertainment who put up with our spinnaker lounge madness and helped us collect activity points (which we never cashed in?) a beautiful girl with a beautiful personality.
Last but not least, would we sail on a Star again, probably not! But we would sail Norwegian again (in a balcony cabin) in a heartbeat!